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Lawmakers keep trying to amend Florida Constitution

It's not easy to amend the Florida Constitution, but that never stops the Legislature from trying.

Heads up, voters: When you go to the polls a year from now to choose a president, U.S. senator, members of Congress and 160 legislators, you will also see seven proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot, all approved by the Legislature in the spring.

One would bar President Barack Obama's health care law from taking effect in Florida. Another would impose a revenue cap tied to inflation and population. A third would require state Senate approval of Florida Supreme Court justice appointees.

Consider this column an early warning to you, the voter, to figure out what the amendments are about before you vote.

In the next few months, the number of ballot propositions could increase, as lawmakers tinker with the sacrosanct document that serves as a framework for state government and grants individual rights to citizens.

Lawmakers have already filed two dozen proposed constitutional amendments for the 2012 session that opens Jan. 10 in Tallahassee.

Two South Florida Democrats, Sen. Larcenia Bullard of Miami and Rep. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, have filed bills that would legalize the medical use of marijuana, subject to voter approval. Such laws already exist in 16 states.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, want to ask voters to make the post of education commissioner elected and not appointed, reversing a change voters made when they approved a downsizing of the Cabinet in 1998.

Sen. David Simmons, a Maitland Republican, wants voters to extend the mandatory retirement age for judges from age 70 to 75.

"Times have changed, and people are living longer," says Simmons, 59, a lawyer. "Why not get the benefit of another five years of work out of our judges? I think they end up being wiser, more experienced."

Democratic Rep. Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg has filed three proposed constitutional amendments, none of which is likely to endear him to his Republican colleagues.

One would ban offshore oil drilling in state waters. Another would create a mechanism so voters could recall the governor or legislators. His third proposal would extend term limits for lawmakers from eight years to 12. (Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, has filed the same bill in the Senate.)

Under the change, House members, who now run for office every two years, would run every four years and senators every six years instead of every four years.

Kriseman says longer House terms would reduce the obsession on campaigning and raising money while allowing more time to focus on policy. He knows it's not likely to get the three-fifths majority in both chambers that's needed to reach the ballot.

"Sometimes you file legislation to initiate a discussion," Kriseman says.

He backed a change in law several years ago that requires 60 percent voter approval for any amendment to the Constitution, and he says too many ballot proposals will simply backfire on lawmakers.

"Voters are smart enough that if they feel overwhelmed, they're just going to vote no," Kriseman says.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Lawmakers keep trying to amend Florida Constitution 11/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 28, 2011 7:22pm]
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